The Kathmandu Valley contains three royal cities – Kathmandu (local name: Yen, population 550,000); Patan (Yala, pop. 160,000); and Bhaktapur (Khopa, pop. 75,000). Kirtipur and Thimi are two other smaller municipalities. There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Valley.
The Valley was once a lake. According to legend, a Buddhist saint named Manjushree drained out the waters by slashing a passage through the hills and peopled it with his followers. Over the millenniums, a refined urban civilization emerged, built on a unique synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism. Dynasties came and went. Commerce and crafts flourished. Its religious Newar inhabitants built fabulous cities and artistic temples that are unmatched in the Himalayan region.
Durbar Square (World Heritage Site). This complex of palace buildings, courtyards and pagoda temples, built between the 12th and 18th centuries, used to be the seat of the ancient Malla kings of Kathmandu. It is the urban and ceremonial focal point of the city. Entrance Rs. 200 (Rs. 25 for SAARC nationals).
Asan market square is located midway on the diagonal thoroughfare linking Durbar Square with Durbar Marg. The bazaar is a swirl of color against a backdrop of temples and open-fronted shops. Narrow lanes radiate out leading to mysterious courtyards. (Website: www.intweb.com/asan)
Swayambhu Stupa (World Heritage Site) watches over the Valley from the top of a hillock to the west. One of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal, its establishment is linked to the creation of the Kathmandu Valley. Sengu is another name for Swayambhu. You can get a very good view of Kathmandu from here. Entrance Rs. 50 (SAARC nationals Rs. 30).
Balaju consists of a sprawling garden of stone water spouts (hiti), religious shrines, fish ponds and a replica of the statue of Budhanilkantha. It is situated below Nagarjun hill about 3 km northwest of the city center. Balaju is also known as Lhuti. Entrance Rs. 3. (Tel: 350111).
Mhaypi temple stands on a forested mound in a peaceful spot about 1.5 km to the north of Thamel. It is dedicated to Mhaypi Ajima, a protective mother goddess. The temple complex contains many Hindu and Buddhist images. Stone lions guard the entrance which is surmounted by an exquisitely carved tympanum.
Budhanilkantha, or Bhuijasi, is situated below Shivapuri hill at the northern end of the Valley, about 9 km from the city center. There is a pond in the middle of which lies an immense stone figure of the Hindu god Bishnu reclining on the coils of a serpent.
Bouddhanath Stupa (World Heritage Site), also known as Khasti, lies 6 km to the east of downtown. The many monasteries here provide excellent exposure to Tibetan culture. The Bouddha Area Preservation & Development Committee offers information to visitors (Tel: 489257). Entrance Rs. 50 (SAARC Rs. 15).
Pashupatinath Temple (World Heritage Site). One of the holiest Hindu shrines in the world, Pashupatinath lies 5 km to the east of the city center. The fabulous pagoda houses the linga (phallic symbol) of Lord Shiva. The complex contains many other temples, and the holy Bagmati river flows beside it. Entrance Rs. 75.
Changu Narayan Temple (World Heritage Site) is situated at the end of a ridge that sticks out into the Valley, about 12 km east of Kathmandu. It is dedicated to the Hindu god Bishnu. One of the oldest specimens of pagoda architecture, the temple is embellished with exquisite wood and stone carvings.
Kirtipur (pop. 31,300) is situated on a ridge 6 km to the southwest of Kathmandu. The ancient town (established in 1099 AD) is a natural fortress and has a proud and courageous history. The Chilamchu stupa and the temple of Bagh Bhairav are major sights here. You can have a great view of Kathmandu from the Shiva Parvati temple. Kirtipur offers quaint streets and temple squares. The people are known for their skill in building and weaving. Walk to the village of Panga for an interesting outing.
Dakshinkali and Chobhar. The Hindu temple of Dakshinkali is a very popular place of worship. Located 22 km from the city on the southern rim of the Valley past Pharping village, the shrine is especially crowded on Tuesdays and Saturdays when animal sacrifices are offered. On the way back, stop at Chobhar gorge. The gash in the hills was made by Manjushree to drain out the lake which once covered the Valley.
Durbar Square (World Heritage Site), an enchanting melange of palace buildings, courtyards and pagoda temples, is the center of Patan’s religious and social life. An entrance ticket which costs Rs. 200 (SAARC Rs. 25) entitles you to visit the palace and other sites in Patan like Oku Bahal, Mahabouddha, Kumbheswar and Achheswar Mahavihar.
Iba Bahi is about a two-minute walk to the south of Durbar Square. It is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the Kathmandu Valley, and reflects the sophisticated architecture of the Malla period. There is a shrine dedicated to Buddha Shakyamuni right across the entrance.
Mahabouddha. This Buddhist monument is an excellent example of terra cotta artform which points to the skill of Patan’s ancient craftsmen with a variety of building styles. The 14th-century monument’s obelisk-like design is also unusual in a city of pagoda roofs.
Oku Bahal is situated a few steps past Mahabouddha and is one of the best known Buddhist places of worship in Patan. The stone-paved courtyard is enclosed by a two-story building with gilded roofs. The carvings on the roof struts are especially attractive.
Kwa Bahal, or the Golden Temple, is a Buddhist monastery courtyard dating to the 12th century. Located 200 m north and west of Durbar Square, it is embellished with exceptionally fine wood-carvings and repousse work. Artistic images are scattered around the courtyard. Entrance Rs. 25 (SAARC Rs. 10). (Tel: 534595).
Kumbheswar. Built in 1392, this Shiva temple is the oldest temple in the city. It is also one of the only three in the Valley with five roofs. The water in the two ponds here (Kwanti) is believed to originate in the holy Gosaikund lake, several days’ walk to the north.
The Central Zoo in Jawalakhel contains about 106 species of birds and over 665 different animals. There is a pond where you can go boating. Open daily, except Mondays, from 10 am to 4 pm. Entrance Rs. 100 (Rs. 50 for children). SAARC Rs. 40, children Rs. 30. Elephant ride is Rs. 100 (Tel: 528324).
Durbar Square (World Heritage Site). This former royal palace complex offers the elegant 15th-century Palace of 55 Windows, artistic courtyards, the Golden Gate, a masterpiece in repousse art, and an entrancing medley of pagoda temples scattered all over. Entrance Rs. 775 (SAARC Rs. 50).
Taumadhi Square lies to the east of Durbar Square reached by a brick-paved lane. The five-roofed Nyatapol temple (built in 1702) here soars gracefully into the sky from atop a five-level plinth. The stairway leading up to the temple is flanked with stone figures of deities and mythical beasts.
Tachapal Square or Dattatreya, at the hub of a maze of streets lined with richly ornamented houses, presents an entrancing ambiance. The heart of uptown, it is the original center of Bhaktapur. The Peacock Window is set into the wall of a Hindu monastery here known as Math.
Potters’ Square. A two-minute walk to the south of Durbar Square brings you to Bolachhen, also known as Potters’ Square. Here you can watch potters molding wet clay into different kinds of earthenware. It has a display of fresh pottery left out to dry in the open.
Siddha Pukhu, a pond dating to the Lichhavi period (350-750 AD), is better known as Ta-Pukhu, meaning big pond. It is a tranquil enclave in the city where you can let your tensions drain away as you watch the fish and admire the stone images of different Hindu and Buddhist gods.
Surya Binayak is a very popular pilgrimage and picnic spot. Situated in a forest to the south of Bhaktapur, it is a 20-minute walk from the trolley bus terminal. The temple, dedicated to the Hindu deity Ganesh, is crowded especially on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Thimi (pop. 32,000) is a farming town situated 8 km east of Kathmandu on the way to Bhaktapur. It is known for excellent papier-mache masks and earthen pots, which are often seen spread out on the streets to dry. Homespun cotton cloth is another Thimi specialty. Balkumari temple is the town’s religious and social center. It is one of the major temples in the Valley dedicated to the mother goddess. Another important shrine is the temple of Karunamaya, the Buddha of Compassion.
The villages of Bode and Nagadesh near Thimi offer a close look at the Valley’s farming communities. Bode is noted for its Neel Barahi temple and as a leading producer of beaten rice. Siddhi Ganesh is the main shrine in Nagadesh.
suggested half-day itinerariesSight-seeing can be done on foot in the city core areas; for outlying spots, hire a car or take the bus. Travel agencies in Kathmandu offer a variety of half-day and full-day guided tours. The following combinations of tourist sites make for a pleasant half-day of sight-seeing: Kathmandu Durbar Square, Asan, Swayambhu Kathmandu and Patan Durbar Squares Kathmandu Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Pashupati, Bouddha, Bhaktapur Thimi, Bhaktapur Pashupati, Bouddha, Changu Narayan Balaju, Mhaypi, Budhanilkantha Kirtipur, Chobhar and Dakshinkali